Nils Patrik Johansson is a busy guy. Over the last two decades, the man’s cashed checks with the on-again, off-again Lion’s Share, the on-hiatus Wuthering Heights, and Civil War, who he recently bailed on because he didn’t have the time (go figure). His work arguably peaked with the momentous output of Astral Doors. Banging out their first four albums in an incredible half-decade, the Swedes lifted Dio-worship to new heights. However, it’s been ten years since that initial span and recent returns have diminished. Can their eighth release, Black Eyed Children, recapture the organ-grinding, tiger-riding magic that Astral Doors once offered in spades?

Clean, chunky chords steeped in heavy metal history; drums, thick and full of punch; Johansson’s ever-aging Dioisms; “We Cry Out” certainly sounds like it has the makings of a great opener. But the song bounces from one loosely-stitched section to the next, sloppily falling ass-backward into what seems like the middle of the track. Johansson’s attempts at a cookie-cutter chorus never latch on, while the thread of the song leads nowhere worth a return trip. It’s a theme that follow-up “Walls” continues. Its slow start and Avantasian vocal melodies (of all influences) bleed into a tasty yet neglected guitar undercurrent that could have made the song so much more. Solid classic rocker “God Is the Devil” leads into “Die on Stage,” a Van Halen-meets-Accept heavy metal tribute that opens with an organ intro closer to Final Fantasy than “Rainbow in the Dark.” It’s a step in the right direction, but the absence of memorable riffs leaves Johansson to die on that stage alone. Throughout its first half, missed opportunities and flawed execution sadly underscore a record struggling to gain its footing.

Thankfully, “Good vs. Bad” rides in at the nick of time, a first-light charge with a thousand coursers at its back. A highlight stuffed with riffs, keys, and vocal pastiche worthy of Ronnie James himself, the track’s fantastic chorus rides a triumphant crescendo reminiscent of a Civil War epic. With its feet under it, BEC clears hurdles more easily than even ten minutes prior. The easy flow of “Suburban Song” gets your head moving before “Lost Boy” meshes guitars and organs into a beefy, surprisingly deep sound. Johansson’s unexpectedly catchy chorus defies its oblique nature of its rhymes, elevating a chorus-bridge combo that was already supremely enjoyable. The grandiose “Slaves to Ourselves” caps the run, building on the monumental scale introduced on “Good vs. Bad.” Though notably suffering from a case of bloat, even the eponymous closer features an energetic midsection and stellar solo, courtesy of Joachim Nordlund (Sky of Rage), and aptly sums up the fulfillment of the album’s second act.

In direct comparison to his Civil War finale, released only five months ago, NPJ sounds revitalized (read: not that old). Perhaps some time off, what little of it he could scrounge up, has done him good. The days of him being mistaken for a Dio hologram are likely gone for good, but in their place, the good Sir Patrik has hewn a deep well of vocal hues from which to pull. The myriad of vocal contortions that flesh out BEC shows he has more to offer than stellar yet fleeting moments of impersonation. Also of note is the lush sound of Erik Mårtensson’s mix. Balancing three guitars, a drum kit, a keyboard, and an Aviatored vocalist isn’t the easiest job in the world, but BEC sounds fantastic from open to close. The drum treatment in particular gives Johan Lindstedt an excellent canvas upon which to draw. Likewise, Jocke Roberg’s keyboards deserve their constant presence, filling out a well-layered album and doing their best to negate BEC’s A-side foibles.

In Black Eyed Children, Astral Doors have crafted a record where success is counterbalanced by “What if?” Their front-half failure seems all the more egregious when considering how effortlessly they can recall their glory years at times. That they still have the touch is not up for debate; whether they have the consistency to fully deploy it is. In spite of its poignant highs, it’s hard to recommend an experience that only partially works. Black Eyed Children is a platter that will surely please, but only after the Brussels sprouts have quietly been fed to the dog.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Metalville
Releases Worldwide: April 28th, 2017

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  • Grymm

    “I got a feelin’… that tonight’s gonna be a good night…”

  • Nils is starting to look a lot like Jon Oliva.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      A new Jon. Oliva NEWton Jon!

    • Grymm

      I noticed that too.

  • Tofu muncher

    I never say no to this kind of sound.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    why does the singer look like he is trying to force a villainous accent in the music video

    why are keyboardists still considered acceptable components of greensceen music videos

    why are greenscreen music videos still considered acceptable

    why is “into the night” still a combination of words that is used by people unironically

    why isn’t the song title “We cry out” properly capitalized

    why did someone think “Metalville” was a name good enough for an entire label, especially when the label front page says “There are bands on Metalville that are not really “Metal” but………it’s all rock music!”

    why is there not a single name-drop in this review that is legal for minors

    why is the frontman wearing sunglasses in the band photo when he is clearly indoors, and why is he sitting on a chair, forcing the guy with the unfortunate job of cropping the image to have to keep dudebro on the right’s gross-looking shoes in frame

    why do i ask questions that i know just can’t be answered in this lifetime with our current technological barriers

    the inner machinations of astral door’s mind are an enigma

    • Drew Music

      The world needs more of you and That Guy. The dark arts of spite and general difficult-ness will live on until the light takes us, Generation Snowflake be damned.
      There will be no happiness.

      • Thatguy

        My pleasure.

        Need I say how much I hate this?

        • [not a Dr]

          No, but you need to educate us on how the band pic could have warned us off.

    • Reese Burns

      God bless this post.

    • Thatguy

      Why does the drummer look like…that?

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        his sweat mustache in the music video is incredibly distracting

    • sir_c

      Power metal makes one philosophical, doesn’t it?

      Add a little Geoff Tate and you’ll be asking questions like “why am i still here?”

  • Mark Z

    Could care less about the music but for those who’ve never heard of it, the Black Eyed Children is actually a pretty creepy urban legend. Would have made for a neat concept album if they decided to carry it through.

    • Drew Music

      I can see how random sightings of baby J Mann (Menn? J Babyy’s?) would be pretty creepy.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      I don’t know jack about any legends, but my previous google image search for this album yielded a whole lot of creepy ass nope.

  • The music made me giggle, then frown.
    The video made me giggle, then it triggered my gag reflexes.

    • Bearded_Relic

      Agree on all points. What did I just watch? And why did I watch it until the very end?!

  • Nola Trash Talk

    You know you’re old when Astral Doors had ‘glory days’.

    • itsmydamnation

      But man those first few albums are great… so sad they couldn’t keep the quality up, they didn’t need to change a thing just do more of the same at the same quality, but now they do more of the same at significantly worse quality :(

  • Aesir

    Dear Gods, what is this?
    First they start the video by ripping off the ending of
    Terminator 3. And WHAT is the deal with the Eye of Sauron in the background?
    Then come the ice cream truck keyboards and when the singer
    This song could have been on the soundtrack to the
    Transformers movie from the 80’s…………that was not a compliment.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Yet you had to go out of your way to point out that it’s not a compliment. Go figure.

      • Aesir

        Some people genuinely love the soundtrack to that movie. I don’t know why….but they do.

  • Panagiotis Krokidas

    The cover is ridiculously similar with Pyramaze’s last album.

  • madhare

    Astral Boobs?

    • Chris

      At first glance, I honestly thought it was “Astral Doobs”

  • sir_c

    Black eyed children, is that the same as children wearing Irish sunglasses?

  • new jersey

    I don’t know what all of you listen to,? But I found this LP to rock out. If your a Dio/ Sabbath fan and other bands like them, then this is right up there. I’ve played it three times, and it gets better each time.